New York State IPM Program

July 18, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do

Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do

You’ve all heard about them, right? Yeah, the little buggers sneak up on you, bite you, and—maybe—make you sick. Sometimes really sick.

They’re not really bugs, of course, but tiny eight-legged critters remotely related to spiders but without the benefits spiders provide. (Note that adult females plump up like small grapes once they’ve satisfied their appetite.)

Just for fun, I wrote a sentence on my finger — period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)

For today, we’re considering blacklegged ticks, aka the deer tick—the name it was christened with years ago, before entomologists realized that tick is already here; has been for thousands of years—and it already has a name. Yes, we’ve got a couple of other ticks we can’t ignore. But that’s for another day.

So … the best reason for ditching the name “deer tick”? It suggests deer are the problem. OK, blacklegged ticks do infest deer and deer can travel widely, so yes, they carry them around in the literal sense and ticks will drop off here, there, most anywhere. But no, deer don’t vector (aka “carry”) Lyme disease. Look to mice, chipmunks, and shrews for that.

So. Back to the topic at hand. The youngest ticks are six-legged larvae, the size of the period at the end of this sentence—and with one exception, they don’t vector disease. (More on that in another post.) After they feed on, say, a mouse or robin, they morph into nymphs and grow as large as poppy seeds. Since poppy seeds with legs are still darn small, they’re the ones that most often nail us.

And the adults? They’re more likely to vector Lyme and the co-infections that too often accompany it or act in its stead. After all, ticks have adapted to be secretive; to keep from being detected. But since by now they’re the size of sesame seeds—still small, yes, but easier to see—you’re more likely to get shed of them before they do damage.

No matter which life stage they’re at, know how to protect yourself. Because you can’t count on feeling them crawling on you. Here’s the countdown:

Tick habitat—it’s everywhere.

Recognize and avoid tick habitat. Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out, but it’s possible to come too close for comfort to a tick anytime you leave the pavement. Sure, some parts of the state are home to orders of magnitude more ticks than others are, but that’s no reason to think you’re immune to those nasty little critters catching you unawares. And it’s so easy to be unaware.

Daily Tick Check! Regardless how careful you are, you won’t manage to steer clear of ticks 100 percent of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the spots and bumps on your skin so you can recognize new ones. New ones that just happen to have legs.

Dress the part. If you’ll be in tick habitat (meaning you step off the pavement), take precautions by wearing light-colored, long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. It’ll be easier to see ticks crawling on you and more difficult for ticks to get to your skin.

Get yourself some super-pointy tweezers, the type that airport security would probably confiscate. Be firm: steady and straight up until that sucker lets go.

Use repellents. Here’s more on choosing the right repellent.  and this guide from Consumer Reports.

Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

Which is all we’ll say for now, other than on August 7 we’re hosting a statewide conference on—you guessed it—ticks. Oh … and skeeters, too:

  • Breaking the Cycle: Integrated Management of Ticks and Mosquitoes
  • Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 9 AM
  • Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, New York

November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:

A tick’s lifespan is

  • three months
  • ten months
  • twenty-four months (that is, about two years)

The best way to remove a tick is to

  • swab it with nail polish
  • hold a hot match to its behind
  • pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers

Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)

But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.

Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.

And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.

Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.

Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)

Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).

Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.

Our second  quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)

Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)

If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.

With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.

Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.

February 22, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Happy Cows, More Milk — Organic Dairy Guide en Español

Happy Cows, More Milk — Organic Dairy Guide en Español

Happy cows. More milk. Now let’s try it in Spanish: Vacas felices. Más leche.

Pests can pack a wallop to a dairy farmer’s bottom line, costing between five and 20 percent of lost production. For every 100 cows you’ve got (and most farmers have many more) that can run to the tune of $23,000 to 95,000 per year. Of course, these estimates are based on data that can vary from region to region and year to year.

Misery loves company, and the time cows spend huddling for relief from stable flies is time not spent grazing. Less grazing, less milk. [Photo credit follows.]

But you get the idea — which is why the NYS IPM Program’s guides for organic dairies are so valuable. In fact, in the past six months alone these guides have garnered nearly 340 “pageviews” — a geeky term for how often someone explores an online document. After all, pests have no more respect for organic farmers than they do for conventional ones.

Before we say more about cows or our organic guides, though, let’s talk about people — namely the people who do the work. Because even on a small farm, the farmer can’t go it alone. Yet it’s hard to find good reliable labor for this difficult, labor-intensive work.

Stable fly bites hurt. What to do? Many tiny parasitic wasps attack stable fly pupae (no, they won’t sting you). Releasing parasitoids and other natural enemies is a core IPM practice.

That’s why dairy farmers in New York and across the nation have come to rely heavily on Hispanic workers — workers who are more tech-savvy than you might think, says Cornell Cooperative Extension bilingual dairy educator Libby Eiholser. Eiholser provides training programs and reference materials in Spanish and translated NYS IPM’s Spanish-language organic dairy guide — which has received 130-plus pageviews as of this posting. Now Hispanic workers have the opportunity to become yet more invested in the value of their work.

So … for all those pests that pack a wallop? Now Hispanic workers can open Guía del Manejo Integrado de Plagas (MIP) para los Ranchos Orgánicos and it’s all right there — the pest, the damage … oh, and the unhappy cows. IPM answers are right there too.

Informed workers, happier cows. Trabajadores con conocimiento, de vacas felices. Happy cows, more milk.. Vacas felices, más leche.

Learn more about IPM, livestock, the works.

Photo courtesy Bill Clymers, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

 

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